BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan -- Quality Assurance Specialists for ammunition surveillance assigned to the Army Field Support Battalion-Afghanistan play an essential role in equipping the warfighter throughout Afghanistan.
A small team of three Department of the Army civilians is responsible for inspecting every piece of Army ammunition that is issued to Soldiers on the battlefield.
"We have to put 100 percent of our focus into every inspection," said Jennifer Voelkelt, quality assurance specialist, ammunition surveillance (QASAS), AFSBn-Afghanistan.
"If I send a faulty round out with a Soldier on the battlefield and that Soldier's weapon won't fire because of that, then I might have just killed somebody," Voelkelt said. "I can't have that happen, and the Soldier definitely can't have that happen."
The team performs inspections on all types of Army ammunition -- from the smallest caliber bullets to largest and most powerful missiles -- in accordance with the Army's technical manuals and supply bulletins.
All ammunition needs to be inspected for serviceability periodically over time. The quality assurance team uses a computer database that tracks every piece of Army ammunition in country to determine when inspections are due.
"Depending on the ammunition, that could be every year or every few of years," Voelkelt said. "We have to really pay attention to the inspection periods so we don't leave Soldiers out there with questionable ammo, but also so we can afford them the longest window of use for the ammo they are issued."
Since all ammunition must be tracked to ensure the periodic inspections are completed on time, property accountability for each round is important and presents the biggest challenge.
A round that appears to be completely functional but is missing its identifying markings cannot be returned to the battlefield because it can no longer be properly tracked.
"When you look at an actual round, you'll see at the very bottom of it a head stamp," Voelkelt said. "That's the only markings a round has on it. When the rounds are out of the packages and being carried around loose, the lot number can get marred up and we can't read it."
Along with unreadable markings, ammo links are the most common fault identified by the inspectors, said Voelkelt.
"Any damage to the integrity of the round would render it unserviceable," she said. "If the casing is pinched or crushed, if there's a hole in the side of it, or if the projectile has separated from the casing or the primer is gone or damaged, the round is no good anymore. We've seen all of that before."
Ammunition is initially issued in packaging that is design to protect its contents from a fair amount of abuse. The packaging is rated to withstand a certain amount of pressure, contaminants, and general wear and tear.
"This ammo is out on the battlefield with the warfighter for extended periods of time," Voelkelt said. "They get run over, caught in heavy moving parts of vehicles and slammed around. I think everyone realizes this is a harsh environment for people, but really it's a pretty harsh environment for everything -- ammunition, too."
In addition to periodic inspections, the quality assurance team also accepts and processes ammunition that a unit identifies as unserviceable. The unit submits a turn-in document and drops the damaged ammunition off at an ammunition supply point (ASP).
"If we get ammunition from a unit that is deemed unserviceable, the unit will submit an issue request so we can replace that ammunition with an equal amount of new rounds, or fulfill them for what they need," Voelkelt said.
The ASP also serves as an amnesty point where people can turn in any unaccountable ammunition they might find.
All three members of the AFSBn-Afghanistan QASAS team said that their current tour of duty in Afghanistan is a great source of knowledge and pride as they continue to dedicate themselves in support of the warfighter.
"It brings everything full circle," said Tameka Maxie, QASAS, AFSBn-Afghanistan. "You can learn in school and at the depot level for several years, but then seeing firsthand the end state of your efforts down range really fills in every detail and truly enhances your knowledge of the job."
Maxie is an Army veteran who served on active duty as an ordnance specialist, so her familiarity with ammunition of various sorts carried over from her military service, she said.
Christabel Frazier, QASAS, AFSBn-Afghanistan, is also an Army veteran. However, she served as a metal worker and hadn't worked exclusively with ammunition until she returned to service as a DA civilian.
"As a Soldier, I hadn't really thought about where the ammunition comes from or if it's even good to use. Your sergeant gives it to you and you just use it. It just works," Frazier said. "So, for me in this job, I get to see how much work goes into that ammo before it ends up in a weapon to make sure it's going to work correctly."
"It's pretty eye-opening," Frazier continued. "And since I never had a problem with my ammo functioning properly when I was a Soldier, it motivates me even more now to make sure no Soldier in my operational area has a problem with their ammo."
Voelkelt is a career QASAS with 13 years of service as a DA civilian. Prior to her current deployment, she served as a hazardous materials (HAZMAT) instructor for the Defense Ammunition Center at Fort Bliss, Texas where she will return at the end of her tour.
"What we do is very important," Voelkelt said. "The ammunition has work properly because lives may quite literally depend on it. I love my job, and I especially love this opportunity to support the warfighter this close to the battlefield."